Michelle Natale review of Louis St.Lewis
Louis St.Lewis' "Pop Martyrs: Contemporary Culture and it's Consequences' opened Friday March 13th at Raleigh's Gallery C. Featuring his trademark glass collages and large bright canvases, it also holds a few surprises.
St.Lewis says, "The fact is, most people get screwed by contemporary culture and they become martyrs in one way or another." This show carries out the theme, with references to Princess Di, Jon Benet Ramsey and the ubiquitous Marilyn Monroe.
The works conceptually dare propriety around these parts. Simple linear floral still-lives, painted in human blood, a chandelier composed of human bones, crystals and rhinestones, Doppleganger, a coffin filled with a wax replica of the artist, and 13 Famous Blondes, which incorporates copious amounts of brown pubic hair. And lets not forget St. Lewis' latest creation, his cologne, Clone, with top notes of lime and oak moss".
You'll be greeted by Doppleganger in the window, a wax effigy of the artist with spiky white wig placed in a coffin filled with images of butterflies and metamorphosis, symbols of transformation.
Not gruesome in the least, the blood paintings, titled The Spencer Bouquets appear to be loose linear studies in what might be sepia ink. If you didn't know they were painted in St.Lewis' own blood, you wouldn't be put off by them in the least. St.Lewis explains his inspiration for the pieces and the reason behind the unusual medium: " When Princess Diana was killed, I was just glued to the television from the moment the wreck occurred until they finally laid her poor body in the ground. And during that week, when all the people were throwing bouquets against the palace gates in London, I was overwhelmed by the emotion people felt for this tragic heroine, even though most people never knew Princess Diana. I think lots of people felt closer to her than members of their own family and I felt that way too. I wanted to really make a memorial to her, and i thought using my own blood was a way of making a creative sacrifice in the same way that she sacrificed herself."
Simply executed, perhaps even dashed off, The Spencer Bouquets have a Dufy-like calligraphic quality. Here, the idea rather than the work compels.
In the center of the gallery hangs the Ancestral Chandelier, composed of human skulls, tibias and ulnas, draped with rhinestone jewelry and crystals, frosted with gold leaf and dusted with ostrich plumes. Again, this may sound macabre, but St.Lewis forces us to contemplate these materials for their aesthetic beauty as well as their charged content. The result is a fantastic hauntingly beautiful object that speaks to the darker side of our imagination.
The incorporation of human bones in his work is actually borrowed from art history. He was inspired, he says, " By traveling in Europe and going through the charnel houses and seeing that during the plague years, so many dead people were piling up that they started making decorative use of the bones. People think I'm being morbid, but what I am saying with this is, every time I walk into the room and see these skulls and these bones, that my time here on this planet is very temporary and I need to make hay while the sun shines. So they're very modern day Vanitas or Memnto Mori."
When I ask St.Lewis if the imagery in his glass collages is " appropriated" he responds, " no they're not appropriated. I stole them out of magazines and different places like that. When I'm looking through magazines, I often come across images that bear a very close resemblance to classical imagery. This woman [he points to the glass collage The Epiphany of Mary Magdeline] has a very close look, I believe, to Venus Italica or the Canova Venus. I love the idea of trashy modern media relating back to classical feelings. I say, they stole that pose, so I'm going to steal their image and I'm going to pile things from the past onto it and it comes out beautiful. You can use the trash of our society and create something lovely with it if you give it half a chance."
The glass collages- mostly photographic portraits made on acetate layered over glass- incorporate layerings of images such as florals, butterflies, visual quotes from classical paintings, gold leaf and even dollar bills. This medium seems most successful in conveying St.Lewis' conceptual ideas.
Here he works in pairs and trios, not as diptychs or triptychs , but manipulating each image separately to achieve varying emotional shadings. This image repetition is a Warholian concept, but St.Lewis works each image carefully, by hand with a completely different intent. These devotional collages are consistently St.Lewis' best crafted, most cogent, poetic easy to take works. Their content might be scandalous if you examine closely, but more than likely, you'll just be lost in layers of lush materials, images and colors.
All in all another stellar St.Lewis show, with a few new flavors thrown in- a little jolt Raleigh could use. Hats off to Gallery C, a commercial venue, for taking the chance with some very challenging material.